Arts & Culture
Maya Snyder
Spring 2022
What We're Reading

What We’re Reading: Once There Were Wolves

A review of Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy

Review by Maya Snyder, SFS ‘24 & Common Home Editor

Silhouette of a wolf and forest. Double multiple exposure in watercolor painting.Wolf howls. Natural background, spruce, pine, bird, mountains and fog. Hand drawn animal portrait.

Once There Were Wolves tells the heartwarming tale of wolves’ return to the Scottish Highlands. It’s also a dark and nail-biting murder mystery. 

Author Charlotte McConaghy breaks the standard mold of environmental writing. Her use of language pushes the reader to empathize with nature. She truly immerses her readers in a perspective from nature. The novel’s protagonist Inti has mirror-touch synesthesia. “My brain re-creates the sensory experiences of living creatures, of all people and even sometimes animals; if I see it I feel it, and for just a moment I am them, we are one and their pain or pleasure is my own,” she says. 

This book is one of my favorite examples of how fiction writing can be uniquely used for environmental advocacy. Although fiction, this book taught me a lot about conservation – particularly the crucial role natural predators play in balancing ecosystems. Wolves, specifically, are essential to forests. Wolves hunt deer, keeping deer population under control. Without these natural predators, deer overeat vegetation like tree shoots, preventing forest growth.

My favorite quote:

The forest has a beating heart we can’t see… Their roots tangle together, dozens of trees with dozens more in a web that reaches on forever, and they whisper to each other through their roots. They warn us of danger and they share sustenance. They’re like us, a family… Can you hear the beating? And we could, somehow we could.

This is part of the Common Home series, What We’re Reading where we welcome reviews of emerging works in the environmental publishing world.

Charlotte McConaghy
environmental writing
Maya Snyder